CVNM & CVNM Action Fund Legislative Endorsement Policy

Goal

The goal of CVNM & CVNM Action Fund’s endorsement process is to leverage the power of endorsements and political activities to implement and reinforce the cycle of accountability to build the strongest possible conservation representation at the state and local levels. To achieve this purpose, our endorsement process is both methodical and predictable—based on consistent data and objective criteria.

Philosophy

Our endorsement philosophy is based on the premise that incumbent elected officials determine—through their conservation voting records—whether and how CVNM & CVNM Action Fund will engage in their electoral races. The performance of incumbents is evaluated through the lens of the district or population they represent, and endorsement decisions are based on ensuring that each district or constituency is represented by the strongest possible conservation officials. Only if incumbents have demonstrated that they are out-of-step with the conservation values of their constituents will CVNM & CVNM Action Fund evaluate potential challengers. In open seats, all candidates are evaluated based on any available record they have earned on conservation issues, their stance on critical conservation issues and—to the extent it can be determined—the viability of their campaign.

Endorsement decisions are based on incumbents’ conservation records, information submitted by candidates in their CVNM questionnaires, as well as interviews conducted by CVNM staff and Board members.

Process: Incumbents

Note that incumbents include any elected official who has served at least one full term. Appointees to vacant seats may be considered incumbents if there is sufficient information to evaluate their conservation record. If appointees have not served a full term, and there is insufficient information to evaluate their record, the seat may be considered open.

Incumbents will be evaluated and assigned to one of four categories:

  1. Conservation Champion – defined as all of the following: averaging 90% or better on CVNM’s Conservation Scorecard, consistently speaking on behalf of conservation in committee/on the floor, earnestly sponsoring pro-conservation legislation, and actively helping the conservation community.
  2. Conservation Ally – defined as averaging better than 75%, and one of the following: speaking on behalf of conservation in committee/on the floor, earnestly sponsoring pro-conservation legislation, or being reliably accessible to the conservation community.
  3. Persuadable on conservation issues – defined as averaging better than 50%, being accessible to the conservation community, and at least occasionally changing their position on legislation based on information provided by the conservation community.
  4. Not Persuadable on conservation issues – any incumbents who don’t meet the criteria for one of the above categories.

Districts will be assessed to determine the highest category of pro-conservation officials they can support using the same general categories as for incumbents. These assessments will be based on any available metrics, including constituents’ past or present support of pro-conservation officials in other offices – municipal, county, state legislative, Public Regulation Commission and/or statewide. Where we lack sufficient information to apply policies, specifically where it relates to the performance of the district, the incumbent will be afforded the benefit of the doubt (i.e. the burden is always on CVNM & CVNM Action Fund to make the case that the incumbent is not performing on conservation issues.)

Incumbents and their constituents will be compared to determine the degree of separation (if any) between what the district’s voters can support conservation-wise and the record of the incumbent.

Actions on Incumbents:

After evaluating the incumbents and their constituents, CVNM & CVNM Action Fund may take one of four possible actions:

  1. Automatic/Early Endorsements
    Performing incumbents, defined as:

    • Conservation Champions with challengers in either the primary or general election.
    • Conservation Allies with challengers in districts that are unlikely to support a Conservation Champion.
  2. Educational Target
    A small, select group of incumbents for whom CVNM chooses to invest time and resources to help improve their record over a full cycle (may or may not involve endorsement in current cycle). Educational targets will be selected from the following groups, and any other incumbents will be left to the two remaining categories:

    • Conservation Allies in districts that can support a Conservation Champion.
    • Incumbents who are Persuadable on conservation issues, but whose constituents could likely support a Conservation Ally.
  3. Consideration of Challengers
    • Incumbents who are at least two tiers below their districts or constituents (e.g. Persuadable in districts that could likely support a Champion).
    • Incumbents who do not at least meet the criteria for Persuadable on conservation issues.
  4. No Action
    • Incumbents who do not fall into the first or third categories (automatic/early endorsements or consideration of challengers), but are not selected as one of our educational targets.

It is CVNM & CVNM Action Fund’s policy not to endorse in races where a candidate or incumbent is running unopposed because it dilutes the value and power of our endorsement.

In cases where the incumbent falls at least two tiers below their constituency in their conservation positions, CVNM & CVNM Action Fund reserve the right to actively recruit and support a pro-conservation challenger for the next election cycle.

Consideration of Challengers:

Vulnerability
When considering challengers to poorly-performing incumbents, the first question is whether the incumbent is at all vulnerable in the general election. This may be determined by:

  • Party performance, e.g. less than 55% performance for incumbent’s party.
  • Individual performance, e.g. the incumbent significantly under-performs other candidates of the same party.
  • Contextual liabilities, such as positions on publicly-controversial bills.
  • Ethics or legal problems that are, or may become, public.
  • Unwillingness or inability to run a strong campaign.
  • Lack of support from caucus, key constituencies, etc.

If the assessment demonstrates that the incumbent may be vulnerable in the general election, then CVNM & CVNM Action Fund may evaluate challengers in the primary and general. If not, then the Board will only evaluate primary challengers.

There are two main areas of consideration when evaluating challengers to poorly-performing incumbents, each of which includes some higher-priority criteria (indicated by two asterisks):

Viability of Challenger
(Note: given the recent changes in campaign finance laws, new constraints exist on CVNM’s ability to assess campaign viability. In any races where we may conduct independent expenditures, we cannot ask questions or communicate in any way about the campaign plan, strategies, tactics or funding).

  • Does the campaign have staff/dedicated volunteers with proven campaign experience? **
  • How much effort is the candidate willing to dedicate to the campaign? **
  • Does the candidate have any personal or professional issues that can be used effectively by the opposition?
  • Does the candidate’s resume reflect suitability for the office in question?
  • Has the candidate received other endorsements?
  • Other potential factors: poll results, strength of challenger in previous races, etc.

Substance:

  • How pro-conservation is the challenger? **
  • Does the candidate have a positive record on, or experiences with, conservation issues—particularly as a decision-maker? **
  • Are there any known or proven inconsistencies in the candidate’s questionnaire response or prior bad acts? **
  • Where practical, has the campaign incorporated a conservation platform or positions into the campaign message and materials?

Open Seats

Open seats are a high priority for a rigorous endorsement process. They often represent the best opportunity for converting anti-conservation seats, and they are critical for protecting our pro-conservation representation where the departing incumbent was a Champion or Ally.

The factors used in evaluating candidates for an open seat are identical to those applied to challengers except for the criteria that relates to the incumbent.

Where a candidate for an open seat is unopposed, no endorsement will be offered, although a questionnaire will be solicited and a follow-up meeting will be pursued.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires are a critical component of CVNM & CVNM Action Fund’s endorsement process. They will be distributed to the following candidates:

  • All candidates in open seats.
  • Incumbents who haven’t served a full term and for whom we have an insufficient record.
  • Challengers to poorly-performing incumbents (two tiers below, or are not Persuadable).
  • Challengers to vulnerable incumbents who are under-performing.

In some cases, questionnaires may be distributed to under-performing incumbents (one tier below district) who have challengers; in these cases, the questionnaire may be distributed to both the incumbent and their challenger(s); the incumbent’s questionnaire may be used to determine whether or not they should be selected for the Educational Target track. Decisions about distribution of questionnaires to potential Education Targets will be made by the Board on a case-by-case basis.

Questionnaires will not be distributed to:

  • Endorsed incumbents.
  • Incumbents already on the Education Target track.
  • Poorly-performing incumbents (two tiers below or not persuadable).
  • Incumbent with no challenger.

Exceptions to the general process for questionnaire distribution will be discussed with the Political Committee and addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Interviews

CVNM & CVNM Action Fund recognizes the value of personal interviews with candidates in establishing relationships, evaluating substance and viability, and setting performance expectations for both the candidate and CVNM & CVNM Action Fund.

The need for interviews will be prioritized based on available time and resources, as well as the level of effort CVNM & CVNM Action Fund expects to expend on each race. Where possible, staff and Board members will conduct face-to-face interviews with candidates. To the extent practicable, at least one staff member or Board member should meet the candidate in person prior to endorsement.

Please contact us if you have questions about our endorsement process.